This chilling video of a lynching has been widely shared across the internet to decry the current xenophobic violence occurring in Durban, South Africa. However, this video was actually filmed last March in another town in South Africa.

Since early April, the South African city of Durban has been consumed by a wave of violent clashes between South Africans and foreign nationals, many of whom are immigrants from other African countries. Discussion of the crisis has spread across social media, but, unfortunately, so have many false images which are adding fuel to the fire.

The "burning man"... a photo from 2008

This photo has been one of the most widely shared across social media, especially Twitter, that shows the violence against immigrants taking place in Durban. The image is of a man, consumed by flames, doubled over on all fours. In the background, you can see police running towards him. Many internet users have been sharing their outrage over this shocking photo, which they say was taken during the violence currently gripping Durban.

This screengrab shows a Twitter user who shared the “flaming man” photo, describing it as a picture taken during the current violence in Durban.

However, a quick search on Google Images reveals that, while this photo was indeed taken in South Africa and it does show violence against foreign nationals, it is not an image of the current violence in Durban. This horrific scene actually took place in 2008 in Johannesburg. The man, who died of his injuries, was named Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave and he was an immigrant from Mozambique. The photo was widely circulated at the time of his death, with many people referring to him as simply the "flaming man".

Perhaps because it is such a shocking picture, this photo has actually been widely misappropriated to represent different events. If you look at the URLs that come up on Google Images, you can see that, in the seven years since the photo was taken, it has been posted and re-posted by hundreds of websites and blogs. Each time, it is purported to show a different incident.

For example, this Senegalese blog used the photo to illustrate the “immolation of a shoemaker” while this website associated it with the horrifying story of 13 people who were burned alive in May 2014 in the Central African Republic. Others have used it alongside the story of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose act of self-immolation ignited the Arab Spring.

Moreover, while numerous comments claim that the police are running towards the man and that they were planning on hurting him, in reality, Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave was helped by police, who extinguished the flames… albeit too late.

Children beaten and burned alive… but not in Durban

On Thursday, the Observers team were sent two particularly shocking videos.The footage shows a crowd closing in on five adolescents who are bound together and tied to a tyre. A young man douses them with petrol. They are beaten before being set alight and burned alive in a sickening case of mob justice. These videos were also widely shared, especially last weekend when they were posted on Twitter and YouTube. YouTube took down the video each time it was published, explaining that it did not respect YouTube rules concerning shocking and degrading content. We chose to simply publish a screenshot, blurring the images of the victims.

This video was filmed in Rustenburg not Durban.

However, this horrifying video was not actually filmed during the clashes that took place this week in Durban. One of our Observers contacted us to tell us that the scene actually took place in Rustenburg, a northern city, last month. We were able to confirm it with a local television station, that aired a report about this sickening act of mob justice.



The SABC report includes screengrabs of an amateur video of the lynching. A young man wearing a blue, white and brown striped polo figures prominently in these images and he is the same man who appears in the amateur video that was sent to us.

A man’s slashed and bloodied face: the consequences of a violent strike in Zimbabwe

Social media users have also been sharing this grisly image of a man with blood streaming down his face from two brutal machete wounds to his head and face. While many social media users say the man’s injuries are the result of this week’s Durban clashes, a quick search on Google images shows that this photo was actually taken during a protest at a post office in Zimbabwe in September 2014.

This blurred photo showed a man seriously wounded during a strike in Zimbabwe.

The current violence in South Africa broke out after the Zulu king, who is the highest traditional authority in the country, declared that foreigners should “pack their bags and go home.” Immigrants are often targeted in South Africa. Last January, hundreds of shops owned by immigrants were pillaged in Soweto, a township in Johannesburg. Six people were killed in the violence. In 2008, anti-immigrant violence resulted in the slaughter of 62 people, including Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, and injured hundreds.

This image may be false, but many atrocities have been committed in the past few days in Durban. A Congolese man was burned alive and at least four other people have also been killed.